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Circles and Stones (update 4, excerpt)

I have completed several more chapters of Circles and Stones, the third novel of my ongoing Sanyel series. To give readers an idea what to expect from the novel, I have been posting occasional excerpts. The writing is still in the draft stage, so expect further editing before the final version. Here is the setup to the depicted scene in this excerpt: Teen shaman Sanyel, her friend Izzy, the priest Borsar, and rebel leader Trayvan find themselves within an abandoned arena overgrown by forest. Here they hope to locate Borsar’s son, Porlak, and to rescue him from the clutches of the madwoman Danara, self-proclaimed ruler of this corner of the world. They don’t realize that Porlak has no interest in rescue and has become an ardent follower of the deranged Danara and her bizarre deity. A group of teen and pre-teen male followers of Danara, led by Porlak, has captured Sanyel and her companions, but they have just turned the tables on the boys. However, another obstacle now confronts. Creet soldiers in close pursuit of Sanyel and her friends have at last caught up to them. One of Danara's followers, Walad, escapes from Sanyel, and as he rushes toward the supposed safety of the soldiers, a spear thrown from the direction of the Creet cuts him down in what appears a case of mistaken identity. kanser—type of tree punch gun—an unreliable weapon recently found by Sanyel and friends on a previous adventure, a remnant of a long-vanished, advanced civilization thorel—brushy plant Ra-ta—the sun god Sester—another name for the sun god droove—animal, the equivalent of a horse I checked on the boys behind us as Izzy went to retrieve the gun from its pack. Each hunkered down in fright, with most peering out into the forest from behind the fragile protection of tangled brush. Three had found better security behind a fallen, rotted kanser. Witnessing Walad’s death at the hands of what we all presumed to be a Creet soldier had to dampen their enthusiasm for reunion with their supposed allies. “Stay where you are,” I ordered, though I could see the paralysis of fear was sufficient to keep them in place. “And don’t make a sound. You saw what happened to Walad.” Trayvan and Borsar knelt beside me and our eyes scoured the woods for sight of our unwanted guests. I had an arrow notched to my bowstring and Trayvan had drawn his sword. Izzy joined us with the punch gun just as limbs and leaves at the center of a patch of thorel ahead and to our right stirred. A cracking twig swerved our attention to the left, and then from behind us a clank of metal on metal had us swiveling in that direction. Izzy realized our predicament as soon as I did. “They’re coming from all sides,” she said. “We’re surrounded.” She might as well have added the word “again.” It seems I have a weakness, and that is that I leave myself too often outnumbered by my foes. Well, Izzy had told me to trust Ra-ta. I had no choice now. Red-vested Creet soldiers materialized from behind the trees from all directions, approaching with swords drawn and spears ready. Their depth ran to several layers, as behind the first wave came another, and behind that a third. There seemed little space between them, so it was clear we faced a considerable force. Izzy nodded toward the punch gun she held in her hand. “Do you want me to give this a try? This is not a healthy situation for us otherwise.” I ran the options through my head. That was the only viable one, unless we fought them hand-to-hand. We were good, but I doubted even we could force our way through all these troops. Still, I did not want them to take us captive. “Do it,” I said. “Sweep the gun all the way around us. Set it to stun. We don’t want a massacre on our hands.” Izzy adjusted her settings, then pointed the gun toward the closest cluster of approaching men and squeezed the trigger. The punch gun wheezed, followed by a puff of gray-white smoke that billowed out from holes lining each side panel. Nothing else happened. The soldiers closed in, with one shouting something none of us could make out. Izzy squeezed again. Nothing, not even smoke or sound this time. She kept squeezing until a Creet pointed a spear to her tattooed forehead and demanded she drop the device. She did. I had already slung my bow back over my shoulder and had advised Trayvan to sheathe his sword. I knew if Izzy failed, we could not fight this many Creet and survive. The troops closed in a tight circle around us, but then a crack opened as the men parted to allow a tall, imposing Creet soldier to approach us. “Back up!” he commanded the men in a sonorous voice. “Give them room to breathe.” The man wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his hand, and then swept that hand through thick black hair also dampened by his recent exertion in the woods. He glanced at us with a cursory appraisal. A straight-bridged nose jutted from a strong, beardless face, weathered by years in the sun. The man, who appeared about forty, carried himself with dignity and I found myself admiring his bearing, which reminded me of Semral, the great Sakitan hunter. He looked to both Trayvan and Borsar and said, “Which of you is the leader?” “She leads us,” said Trayvan, pointing to me. The Creet commander’s startled expression pleased me, as it is always satisfying to jolt those with preconceived notions of who is in charge. The man turned his gaze my direction and his attention sharpened as he took me in. “There is something familiar about you. Have we met?” “I don’t recall ever meeting you,” I told him. The man frowned, as if searching for an elusive memory. He shook his head and said, “Well, I can’t place it now, but—” The commander halted as he noticed Izzy, who stood in the shade of a kanser behind me. His face reflected astonishment, as it appeared he recognized her. He turned to an aide. “I wish to question these people in private. Order the men to fall back and form a perimeter forty paces from us. Do it now.” “Are you sure, commander? These intruders are still armed. Shouldn’t we—” “Do as I instruct, soldier! And tell Crasp, Hergul, and Pargus to join me.” “Yes, commander, at once! The aide began shouting, ordering the men to withdraw the desired distance. The Creet officer turned back to us and said, “Please bear with me a moment. My men will soon retreat, and then we can converse in private.” A soldier came up behind the tall man. “Commander? You wished to see me?” “Yes, Hergul. I’m also waiting for Crasp and Pargus, so stand by until they get here.” The Creet commander seemed in no hurry to tell us what this was all about, but I sensed no threat or danger from the man, which was both unexpected and curious. Two more soldiers approached from the woods and the Creet officer greeted both and told them to stand with Hergul. Each held a puzzled expression. The commander turned to me. “I am Kassar, commanding officer of Creet forces within these walls. My apologies, Disrupter, if my troops have interfered with you in any way.” The three men behind the commander went slack-jawed over my revealed identity and then exhibited a growing excitement. I held my own surprise in check. How did this Creet officer know me? And why this unexpected civility from allies of Danara? “It is an honor to meet you,” the tall leader said. I detected nothing but sincerity in the words as the man reached into his vest and removed a small green triangle cut from cloth. The other three men followed suit, and each demonstrated pride as they showed me this familiar symbol of allegiance to the sun god. “This, I trust, indicates our fealty to Sester—and to you, Disrupter,” said the Creet commander. “If you wish to reveal the reason you have returned to Grell, you can rely on our discretion in keeping that secret, and if you require our assistance you need only ask.” “How do you know who I am?” I asked. “I don’t believe we have ever met.” Kassar responded with a smile, and with surprising enthusiasm said, “I was one of the thousands of soldiers who came out of the hills to attack you when stationed in your country a year ago. Though badly outnumbered, in a masterful display of military strategy you lured us in and defeated us by forcing our drooves to dump us to the ground, all with little loss of life. We Creet admire bold and resourceful leaders, even among our enemies. I heard your magnificent speech later and it moved me to become a follower of Sester. These three behind me also heard your words. I recalled your face when I spotted the woman with the missing limb standing behind you, unmistakable as one of the incomparable Blades of Sorrow. We are your devoted servants, hand of the sun god. I apologize for not recognizing you at once.” I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from the upcoming Sanyel novel, Circles and Stones. Be sure to check out the previous excerpts. Sanyel, the first book in the Sanyel series, is available as an e-book FREE at various book retailers. Books in the Sanyel series are also available in paperback.

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